NICOSIA Cyprus, and the British authorities that still administer parts of the island, must act to end the slaughter of thousands of birds each year, served up as restaurant delicacies, Europe's main bird conservation group said on Thursday.
BirdLife says as many as 2.3 million songbirds were killed last year in Cyprus, a stopover on a key migratory route between Europe and Africa.
Trapping is illegal, but it is estimated to be worth some 15 million euros ($16 million) annually. Birds caught are served fried, grilled, poached or pickled.
The practice is thought to be particularly prevalent in the island's southeast, part of which is under administration by Britain, Cyprus's former colonial ruler.
"This wildlife crime is taking place both in the Republic of Cyprus and the (British) Sovereign Base Areas, making it very clear that a joint effort is necessary to address this persistent issue," BirdLife said.
Authorities at the British bases have in recent years cleared low-lying forest areas planted by locals to lure songbirds and Cypriot authorities have conducted raids.
BirdLife says more action is needed. In a report last year, the organization highlighted the Famagusta district in southeast Cyprus as the worst region in the Mediterranean for illegal bird trapping.
Birds such as blackcaps and warblers are often lured into traps by birdsong recordings, flying straight into nets. The practice can often snare bigger birds, including owls.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)